Iron and hair loss
There is quite a bit of published research into the relationship between low iron and thinning hair, with references all the way back to 1963.
Although it's still a contentious issue, there are many medical professionals who support the view that there is a direct link between iron and hair loss and that iron supplements can help reduce or reverse the problem. Do remember that, whilst some of these studies listed here do demonstrate a relationship between low iron and hair loss, that doesn't necessarily mean that the low iron CAUSED the hair loss (that has yet to be scientifically proven).
Nonetheless, it's certainly something to bear in mind when you are trying to establish what might be causing YOUR hair loss issues!
VIVANDI Trichology Center researches...
Low Iron Stores – a Risk Factor for Excessive Hair Loss in Non-Menopausal Women This research, published in 2007, studied 5110 women aged 35 to 60.
Each woman filled in a questionnaire about the extent of her hair loss and had her iron level (serum ferritin) tested. Among the women who described their hair loss as excessive, 59% had low iron stores compared to the remainder of the population.
Decreased Serum Ferritin is Associated with Alopecia in Women
This research, published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology in 2003, studied only a small number of women but gave some interesting results. The subjects of the study – women with telogen effluvium, androgenetic alopecia, alopecia areata and alopecia universalis/totalis - were compared to a group of 11 women who did not suffer from hair loss.
Iron levels for the women with androgenetic alopecia and alopecia areata were SIGNIFICANTLY lower than in women without hair loss. The iron levels of the women suffering from alopecia universalis and telogen effluvium, however, were not lower than those of the women without hair loss.
The Diagnosis and Treatment of Iron Deficiency and Its Potential Relationship to Hair Loss This article was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology in 2006. Its authors – Cleveland Clinic dermatologists Leonid Trost MD and Wilma Bergfeld MD - wrote that they "… believe that treatment for hair loss is enhanced when iron deficiency – with or without anemia – is treated".
Understanding Iron and Ferritin
Iron is an essential mineral. It is needed for many important functions, but primarily to make red blood cells to carry oxygen around the body. If your levels are too low and your body is not getting enough oxygen, then you will feel tired and your immune system will be weakened.
We absorb iron from the food we eat. It moves around the body via the blood, bound to a molecule called 'transferrin', which delivers it to everywhere it's needed. Most of the iron in the body is in the hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells. Some iron is stored in the liver or other organs of the body.
The main storage form of iron is called ferritin. Ferritin levels give a good indication of how much iron is stored in your tissues. Small amounts of ferritin are secreted into the blood's serum. So doctors are able to look for iron deficiency by giving a blood test to check serum ferritin levels.
Why Might Your Iron Levels Be Low?
There are various reasons that you could be low in iron…
You may not be getting enough in your diet
You may be taking medication that is stopping you absorbing iron properly
Extreme dieting or exercise could be depleting your iron stores more quickly than you can replenish them
You may be consuming too much caffeine, which can block iron absorption
You may be deficient in vitamin C. Vitamin C is needed to absorb iron
You may have been taking aspirin or NSAIDs over a long period of time
What Are the Symptoms of Iron Deficiency?
restless legs, limbs
hair loss (tends to be thinner overall, rather than patchy hair loss)
How Does a Doctor Test Your Iron/Ferritin Levels?
Your levels are checked using a blood test. There are a few different kinds of tests. CBC (complete blood count) – this checks your red blood cell and hemoglobin levels Serum iron – this checks the amount of iron in the blood Serum ferritin – this checks the amount of iron stored in the body Total Iron Binding Capacity – this tests how much iron could/should be in the body, by determining how much transferrin (the molecule that transports iron) is NOT carrying any iron.
Having normal iron levels is important, but having enough STORED iron is important too!
What Happens If You Are Diagnosed with Low Iron or Ferritin Levels?
Your doctor will either recommend that you modify your diet, or - if necessary - prescribe an iron supplement. VTC would recommend this in cases of hair loss related low iron levels. He/she would probably recommend taking the supplement on an empty stomach, to avoid other things (like caffeine) blocking its absorption.
Some people find that iron supplements cause an upset stomach, so you might want to ask your doctor if you can have liquid iron, which many find easier to tolerate.
What if Blood Tests Are 'Normal', But You Are STILL Losing your Hair?
The problem with tests for low iron and hair loss is that your doctor may not order quite the right test to diagnose the cause.
As described above, there is more than one test that can be done.
There is a difference between the iron levels in hemoglobin (measured by the CBC test) and your levels of ferritin (measured with the serum ferritin test). Research suggests that low ferritin levels may be one of the most common causes of hair loss. And it's possible to be low in ferritin, without having an actual iron deficiency.
Yet many doctors only order the CBC test, leaving ferritin levels unchecked. So you could be told that blood tests have shown your iron levels to be 'normal'... and you may not discover that your ferritin levels are low, potentially causing your hair loss.
For this reason, it's important to ASK your ferritin levels to be checked.
If your ferritin levels fall below the levels recommended by these experts, then do discuss this with your doctor. If he/she does not prescribe supplements, then you will certainly want to look at your diet and ensure you're consuming enough iron-rich foods (see below).
Why Bother with Blood Tests At All? Why Not just Buy Iron Supplements to Top Up your Iron Levels?
Because this can be VERY dangerous – too much iron is as bad as not enough.
The body can't easily excrete excess iron, so if you take too much, it builds up. This can have many negative effects on the body, including an increased risk of liver and heart disease, plus the acceleration of other conditions like Alzheimer's and Parkinson.
Iron overload can also cause hair loss.
Iron overload is not only caused by consuming too much iron – there can be other reasons.
It can be acquired after receiving numerous blood transfusions or iron shots. It can also be inherited.
VTC suggest that possibly symptoms could include:
changing skin color
lack of libido
Only your doctor can diagnose iron overload, which is treated with iron reduction therapy. Another reason you should not try to 'self-diagnose' if you suspect your iron levels to be low... ...is that your low iron may be caused by ANOTHER medical condition. It's important that your doctor establishes the cause of any iron deficiency. VIVANDI Trichology Center would always consult with you before diagnosing the issue relating to your hair loss, call today for more information +971 4 335 3336.
If your hair loss is caused by physiological stress like, as surgery, extreme dieting etc, removing the 'stressor' is as simple as allowing your body to recover from the procedure, modifying your diet, etc. Your hair, too, should then recover.
But if your hair loss is caused by severe emotional stress that's affecting your overall health - stress that simple lifestyle changes won't fix - then you may want to think about seeking counseling or mastering some personal development techniques.
Here are some tips for dealing with stress and creating a calmer, happier, healthier you
Treat yourself to a massage or ask your partner to do it for you.
Exercise every day for around 20 minutes. This releases “positive" chemicals called endorphins which can even reverse the effects of stress.
Eat a balanced diet, full of simple, healthful foods. Avoid processed foods loaded with chemicals, or sugary foods that may affect your mood. Choose the 'brown' version of foods like bread, pasta and rice so you know you're getting the whole grain instead of a stripped down, nutritionally deficient substitute!
Invest in a few relaxation CDs and listen to them as you enjoy a soak in the tub each evening.
Call VIVANDI Trichology Center for more information +971 4 335 3336